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Yodobashi Camera is one of Japan’s biggest electronics and home appliance retail chains.
|The Apple store in Yodobashi Akiba|
There are 24 branches of Yodabashi Camera, about half of them in the greater Tokyo area, and the rest in big population centers throughout Japan, going as far north as Sapporo in Hokkaido and as far west as Hakata in Kyushu.
|Cameras in Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara|
Yodobashi Camera began in 1960 as a camera store, when a camera cost months and months worth of the average salary. Yodobashi Camera’s strategy was to open stores right next to major stations in the greater Tokyo area and to stock as many products as possible, rapidly expanding into home appliances in general. Yodobashi Camera is all about accessibility: accessibility to stores: near stations and open from 9:30am to 10pm, and accessibility to products, the range of which now covers pretty much everything.
|Yodobashi Akiba, Akihabara|
This strategy very much paid off, and Yodobashi Camera is now a giant, especially in the Tokyo area where shopping for appliances almost necessitates a visit to Yodobashi Camera to compare prices – whether in person or online.
|Selling cameras at Yodobashi Camera|
Online is Yodobashi Camera’s new retail frontier. Last September Yodobashi Camera started a new online service called Yodobashi Extreme that, in the 23 Tokyo wards and a few areas just outside them, directly competes with Amazon Japan’s Prime Now.
|Multimedia Akiba Store information counter, Showa-dori Entrance|
Prime Now gets goods to customers within an hour if they spend more than 2,500 yen and don’t mind paying an 890 yen freight charge, or within two hours freight-free.
Yodobashi Extreme‘s delivery time frame is two and a half hours – not as fast as Amazon Prime Now – but the customer can follow the progress in real time online, delivery is always free, and the range of goods available on Yodobashi Extreme is currently much, much bigger than on Amazon Prime Now. The two companies are therefore locked in an online battle for Japan’s capital city. Time will tell if Tokyo has room for both.
|Yodobashi Camera Gold Point Card|
Meanwhile, Yodobashi Camera’s brick and mortar stores, at least in Tokyo, seem to be constantly thronged. The service at Yodobashi Camera is hit and miss. Staff there often seem routinely overworked and distracted, and can often be more curt and less cooperative than typical Japanese store staff. However, Yodobashi Camera stores don’t pretend to be boutiques, and the range of goods available there makes a visit to Yodobashi Camera almost mandatory if you want a hands-on comparison between the goods on your wish list.
Prices at brick-and-mortar Yodobashi Camera stores are usually higher than what you can find online, but the store’s bonus points system (10% of purchase if paying by cash, 8% with credit card) reduces the gap considerably.
|Showa-dori Entrance, Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara, Tokyo|
Yodobashi Akiba is my local Yodobashi Camera branch, in Akihabara. The Multimedia Akiba Store is a massive building with 9 above-ground floors full of merchandise and 6 underground parking floors. Everything is sold here in the way of gadgets and appliances. There is even a restaurant floor (8F) and a golfing and batting center on the top (9F) floor.
|Subway (left) and JR (right), with Showa-dori Entrance of Yodobashi Akiba off to the right|
If you go to Yodobashi Akiba by train, the Showa-dori Exit of JR Akihabara Station brings you directly to the Showa-dori Entrance of the store. Exit 3 of the Hibiya Subway Station will also bring you out at Yodobashi Akiba’s Showa-dori Entrance. (Read more about Akihabara shopping.)
There is also a massive Yodobashi presence in Shinjuku, which is where the company’s headquarters are located.
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The Yodobashi Akiba store across the road from Akihabara Station is a huge electronics emporium with a huge range of cameras, PCs, tablets and other household electronics. Yodobashi Akiba also retails a vast array of non-electronic goods including clothing, health products, DIY goods, bike and car accessories, books, interior goods and pet supplies.
Ｔｈｅ Ｙｏｄｏｂａｓｈｉ Camera part of the building is on floors 1-6 and is open daily from 9.30am-10pm. The 7th floor has a range of speciality stores, the 8th floor is the restaurant floor and the 9th floor has a batting center and golf shop.
Tokyo Hanaokacho, Tokyo 1-1
|Akihabara by night|
Akihabara is an area of Tokyo that showcases much of what has made Japan successful. Forget about cars for a minute (which are all about the city of Nagoya), and Akihabara rules with its emporiums and specialist stores dedicated not only to the electronic goods and home appliances that Japan began excelling in in the 1960s, but also to the games and manga-related goods that have given Japan a “cool” sheen over the past couple of decades.
The manga-related aspect, in particular, of Akihabara draws hordes of young customers who know all they need to know about the products they’re after before they go there and for whom the careful, conscientious kind of service that their parents might look for is not as important as price.
With little demand for department-store-style service, Akihabara is therefore marked by a distinct lack of it, with service – even in most of the emporiums – marked by half-heartedness, distractedness and brusqueness.
However, over the past year and a half I think I have come to notice some changes. One major change that anyone can notice is the huge increase in the number of customers from China.
|Akihabara by night, with Sofmap at right.|
Even for tourists from mainland China, buying goods in Japan and taking them home is often a cheaper option than buying them in China, and the vaunted quality of Japanese products is another big selling point. So, like the nearby classy shopping street of Ginza, Chinese is just as much heard on Akihabara’s streets as Japanese. And with that, the number of stores in Akihabara with Chinese-speaking staff has also increased markedly.
This is just as well for Akihabara, because, like bricks and mortar stores everywhere, they are feeling the effects of online competition, with stores attracting fewer Japanese customers.
With a need to create a reputation among Chinese buyers, and the need to attract Japanese customers who are generally more inclined to shop from home, all-round levels of customer-friendliness also seem to be rising in what was once “take it or leave it” Akihabara. There is less passive aggression, less brusqueness of manner, more attentiveness and more conscientiousness.
Sofmap is one big Akihabara chain that has mostly been an exception to the area’s reputation for bad service. Service at Sofmap stores has generally been good from as far back as I can remember, but other stores, including Sofmap’s biggest competitor in Akihabara, seem to be pulling their socks up too when it comes to service